Robert Quarles had a bad day. A really bad day. And Neal MacDonough got to show off some serious acting skills over multiple mesmerizing scenes in "Guy Walks Into a Bar," the 10th episode of Justified's third season. But for all the great scenes this season has produced–often at gunpoint, often Emmy-worthy in their performances, often involving dialogue that you or I wouldn't be able to come up with if we had weeks to prepare for let alone the time it takes someone to pull a trigger–"Guy Walks Into a Bar" was, for me, the episode Season 3 officially became inferior to the spectacular Season 2.
From where I sit, Season 3 has been a steady flow of these fantastic scenes and wonderful verbal exchanges that Justified is so damn good at. In fact, there have probably been more standout scenes this season than last. But what Season 2 had over Season 3 counted where it matters most: the stories told were spread out better creating a nice rhythm of buildups and payoffs. Season 3 may have bitten off more than it can chew, flooding the 13 episodes with so much story and characters (incredibly crafted characters, that is) that not all the stories get told the best way possible and not all the characters get the screen time they deserve.
Episode 6 of Season 3, "When the Guns Come Out," was probably my favorite episode of the season. A lot of that has to with the fact that the guns did indeed come out, and they came out blazin'. The pressure built up and the joint exploded at just the right time. Since then, the following four episodes have been a lot of posturing and positioning which, while delicious, hasn't provided that, uhhh... "release" that we've all been waiting for. This kind of goes against AND supports what I said last week and when I argued that Justified was spinning its wheels, but that was okay because it's still such a fun watch it doesn't matter. Boyd Crowder could read the back of cereal boxes and it would still be captivating television. But I guess a block of four episodes (though "Watching the Detectives" was a spectacular mostly standalone episode) of buildup buildup buildup buildup is where I draw the line between patience and impatience.
Season 2 was able to alleviate the buildup of pressure with a major payoff around the same episode mark as we are in Season 3. "Brother's Keeper," Season 2's ninth episode, offed Coover Bennett at the perfect time, and did it at the hands of Raylan. The fallout and anticipation from that death launched Season 2 over the tough hump all shows face and into that rarified air of BEST SEASONS EVER. Think of how different that season would have been if Raylan had a witty conversation with Coover instead of putting one in his gut and dropping him into a hole. Even the scene earlier in the season when Coover beat the crap out of Raylan in Mags' shop supplied an ample form of release. Sometimes the pot has to boil over.
Season 3 hasn't seen Raylan strike out at his foes as much or vice versa. Instead they've delivered put-downs or relied on second-hand ways to inconvenience each other. Even the dirty criminals are looking for ways to avoid confrontation. Maybe I liked this show better when there were more dumb hicks involved? I'm probably writing all this a bit prematurely, as things have been set up for a trifecta of bloodbaths, but at this point I'm still waiting for that big event and less dick-wagging.
Now that THAT's out of the way, let's talk about what did happen. After a moment of getting back on his feet, Quarles has been plastered back to the ground. The horse he bet on in the sheriff's race won but actually lost, Boyd gives him a verbal smacking outside the sheriff's office, and a former associate/gay lover/friend of Quarles' bed toy came knocking on the door with his gun drawn right when Quarles was in the middle of a kickin' Oxy high. A speech about his origins later, and Quarles has the boy prostitute (played by Tommy from True Blood) blubbering into his shoulder. As the episode ends, Quarles snorts some more Oxy (this is officially a problem now), strips down to his birthday suit, and prepares to do Lord knows what to the tied-up boy in the bathroom.
Quarles has lost a lot of the luster he had when he first appeared on the scene. Originally a craft business-like gangster, he's now become a depressing shlub that I almost feel sorry for. Homeboy needs to step it up big time if he wants to make up some ladder rungs in the pantheon of Justified villains, because he's showing weakness big time. Get it together, Robert. We need you to get better so that we're more satisfied when Raylan punches a few holes in you.
Dickie finally came back, with a pardon in the works to spring him from the joint. This obviously upset Raylan, who ended up speaking at Dickie's trial to explain why he should stay behind bars, and Art told him all he had to do was speak English and it was a done deal. It was a layup, but Raylan grabbed the ball, ran down court, and windmill jammed on his own hoop by telling the court to let him out because he'll just catch him again. Maybe it was Raylan's own way of doing business, or maybe he knows that Dickie getting released will mess up plans made by Limehouse and possibly Quarles.
"Guy Walks Into a Bar" continued Justified's late-season chess match, but it's time to start taking some pieces off the board. It's no doubt coming.
Postcards from Harlan County
– I'm not really enthused by Ava's turn into pimp. I just don't buy that she was so opposed to Boyd running that kind of game but she's okay running it. Now she's having her girls hand out blowjobs and handjobs to sway voters. With Quarles' weird behind-closed-doors fetishes and Dewey's adventure to find his missing kidneys, Justified is heading way over-the-top this season. A bit too much for my taste.
– Raylan is only NOW bangin' the bartender? Dude, you disappoint me! That shoulda been hit after a few hours.
– Wynn Duffy's mustache has the best facial expressions!
– Jed's elderly stroke-ridden grandmother hit way too close to Breaking Bad's Hector, aka Mr. DING DING DING. Surely the people behind Justified are also fans of Breaking Bad. Is that a respectable homage or too close to the source? I'm leaning the latter, and it doesn't stop at Hector. The next episode of Justified is called "Measures." Season 3 of Breaking Bad famously ended on "Half Measures" and "Full Measure."
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom